Thursday, February 27, 2014

Animal Abuse in West Michigan

Mlive recently ran a story about Foxy, an injured dog that had been surrendered to Kent County Animal Control. McKenzie Coleman, the woman surrendering him, fraudulently claimed she had found him tossed in a trash can. As unpalatable as it is for Coleman to have claimed saving Foxy when apparently he'd been living in her home for weeks with his eye injury unaddressed, it's not a crime to lie about your motivations for giving up an animal or neglecting to treat his physical problems. It's just unethical and irresponsible.

More troubling is the unknown and unreported abuse or neglect that goes on around us every day. I missed this report in November about a woman who was keeping 23 dogs and 7 cats in her Grand Rapids home (the City of Grand Rapids conveniently has no limit on the number of animals allowed on a property; which may be why Kimberly Savino relocated her dog grooming service/dog "rescue" here from Massachusetts.) It turns out Savino lives just around the corner from my house. I walk by her house on my way to my son's school, and I had no idea that there were that many dogs living there. The residence is large, as is the yard, but the fenced in area is small. I have heard dogs barking sometimes, but not often or loudly enough to indicate that 23 of them were on the property.

This is not the only recent hoarding case. A couple of years ago, authorities seized 352 dogs from one couple's home in Allegan County. This fall a Ypsilanti woman had 88 cats taken from her home. Unfortunately, hoarding is not just a crime, it's a criminal manifestation of mental illness. Hoarders seem to be unable to stop their behavior, no matter how much cruelty it results in because hoarding is how they address their fears and anxieties.

Of course, even worse than people who hoard animals, are people who fight animals for sport or profit. This week two dead pit bulls, bloodied with fight wounds, were found frozen on the side of a road near an elementary school in Muskegon County. Dog fighting tends to be part of a pattern of negative social behaviors like drug and weapons trafficking and illegal gambling, so spotlighting it can only help reduce other crime. But you can't stop dog fighting until people begin to see what a cruel and barbaric sport it is and put pressure on the people in their communities to stop it.

And then, finally, there is the animal abuse no one wants to talk about because it affects all of us, and that's factory farming. When the news reports rivers of manure running into area waterways the unspoken subtext is that so many animals are being crammed in so close together that the manure production is unmanageable by traditional farming methods (which usually involved tilling it back into the soil to replenish it). Chickens, pigs, cows, and other meat animals live in miserable conditions on area farms, spending their days breathing in dirt and filth, wading in feces, fighting among themselves for space or breath. To keep them minimally healthy until they can be slaughtered, farmers pump them full of antibiotics and other chemicals - the end result being that our food supply daily produces deadly contamination while at the same time it erodes our ability to fight the diseases this contamination causes.

Fortunately, we also have numerous agencies in the area advocating for animals. There are dozens of breed-specific and other rescues, and humane societies in every county in West Michigan. These agencies both address the day-to-day needs of abused and neglected animals and educate kids and adults on the importance of valuing them. The Humane Society of West Michigan regularly posts uplifting stories about animals they've placed in loving homes or kids who have foregone a new scooter or iPod for their birthdays, asking that donations be given to the animals instead. It's a relief to read this kinds of stories after a gruesome one about dog fighting.

While most West Michigan people are not animal abusers, we all need to be more aware of what is going on around us so we can stop abuse before it escalates. This is not just an ethical stance. In Detroit approximately 50,000 wild dogs roam the city creating an enormous public menace. An abused or neglected animal is a dangerous animal, and we need as few dangers as possible.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thundersnow? C'mon!

Mark Torregrossa, the meteorologist over at Mlive, has updated his predictions for what we can expect from today's "thundersnow." Previous reports said we could expect rain, sleet, snow, ice, and "everything but the kitchen sink."  A real extravaganza.

I'm sending up the white flag. My snowblower's broken, my roof rake is broken, and my last snow shovel has a huge crack in it. I finally borrowed one from my sister because Meijer had no more in stock. The ice dams on my house are unreal as none of the snow from December (before I was raking) has melted until now. Tuesday night, my dining room ceiling sprung a leak. I climbed up on a ladder to chip away at the ice on that part of the roof, and managed to stop the leak, although I suspect the higher temperature had more to do with it than my hammer and chisel, melting the ice that had crept up under the shingles so the water could make its way down the roof instead of inside it.

My driveway is a wreck. This would have been the year to hire a snow removal service, but since our family is down one income, we didn't. Our truck can make it up the steep slope, but my car can't, so it's parked in the garage. The snow piles on either side of my driveway are taller than I am, so it's hard to throw any new accumulation up over what is already there. Some of my neighbors have been very good about clearing their sidewalks after the storms and blizzards, but many sidewalks around here remain unshoveled and treacherous. The City of Grand Rapids has again warned that those homeowners will be fined if the city has to do the work for them, but I haven't seen anyone from the city out on the northeast side yet.  Of course, I've been pretty housebound.  

My son has missed so much school that the school closings page is permanently open in my browser. School districts are cancelling winter break and scheduling make up days into the June calendar.  I. Give. Up. White flag! Please, winter - go away. But gradually, now, so we don't have flooding.

At least the house is still standing (knock wood). Around West Michigan roofs, car ports and garages, overhangs, and entire houses have collapsed under the weight of snow and ice. The only thing good about today's snow spectacle is that the rain might remove some of the snow from the roofs around here and clear some of the streets. When it freezes again, as it's supposed to, it will be hazardous driving and walking for awhile, though.

Anyone else have winter kvetching they would like to do? This is for posterity, remember. Your future grandchildren want to know about the winter of 2013-14 - the Big One.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is Grand Rapids in for another Great Deluge this spring?

After months of snow and frigid temperatures, parts of West Michigan have the equivalent of 5 inches of rain, in frozen form, blocking their driveways, piled up against their houses and businesses, and in their streets. The usual pattern of accumulation, melt, accumulation, melt hasn't proved true this year, and unless we get a very gradual thaw, this could be a serious problem for many home and business owners in the coming weeks because the water has to go somewhere.

Beginning next Wednesday, we are in for a mini-thaw that will probably feel like summer after temperatures that have only climbed into the double digits at midday. That sudden increase will melt at least some of the standing snow and may create significant problems.

In recent days many have worried their roofs may collapse from the weight of all that snow, but under a thaw, new problems crop up. The snow accumulated on a well insulated roof will melt and refreeze and may create ice dams instead. Backed up ice can get under roof shingles and drip through ceilings, it can pull gutters out of shape or even off roofs, and it can suddenly break and fall off of a roof dropping a heavy weight on whatever lies beneath. Keep an eye on your roof to make sure this doesn't happen to you.

Ice can also melt and cause flooding. Get whatever snow you can away from the foundation of your house so that the water flows away from and not into it. We all know that melts can create ice jams and dam up rivers too. This is largely outside of our control, and we can only hope that the City of Grand Rapids floodwall system is in decent shape as there hasn't been time to entirely repair or improve the floodwall yet.  It only barely held out last year, and there was no reason to panic about flooding during the relatively mild winter of 2012-13. That winter was certainly not this winter. We may get some rain as well, which would only add to the runoff problems.

There's no reason to panic now. We can hope that the mini-thaw will not be problematic and will clear up the streets and melt down already formed ice dams. Just bear in mind that if you live near a river or in a place water pools, you should have a plan for dealing with it in mind now - before it's a problem.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Another One Bites the Dust: the Slow Ebb of G.R. Bookstores

This morning a number of sources reported that the Schuler Books & Music on Alpine would be closing in the next several weeks. The lease on the property was up for a 10-year renewal at an increased rate, and the owners, Bill and Cecile Fehsenfeld, did not feel this location was profitable enough for a renewal not to be a financial risk. They closed the downtown Schuler Books last year for similar reasons, and this brings the chain's presence in West Michigan down from three locations to one.  

The Alpine location is problematic, not because of lack of traffic, but because it's very hard to navigate that area of Alpine, and you cannot easily drive from Schuler Books to Target because the light only allows for turns. It's often very congested as well. It's reasonably simply to go from Target to Hobby Lobby, but the snarl of traffic makes it difficult to visit Toys 'R' Us and then Bed Bath & Beyond, let alone Marshalls or Schuler Books, even though all of them are within a half mile of each other. Whoever designed the area would have been shot at sunrise by any self-respecting dictatorship regime - it's that bad. Because of this, while I've often shopped at Penzey's or gone to lunch at Panera Bread, I almost never go to Schuler Books - and I'm a book lover and librarian!

What's left for bookstore lovers in Grand Rapids from a brick-and-mortar standpoint? The Schuler Books on 28th remains, of course. And there's a Barnes and Noble at Woodland Mall. Pooh's Corner is in Breton Village Mall. If you like Christian fiction (or nonfiction, for that matter), there are a number of bookstores in Grand Rapids that may appeal - Baker Book House, Kregel Parable, Eerdman's, and Family Christian. There are also a few used bookstores scattered around the area in shopfronts: Reading Books in Rockford, Argos, Book Corral, Mystery House Book Shoppe, as well as a couple of comic book stores, some church-affiliated bookstores, and a few porn shops. If you're looking for a less expensive bookstore alternative, Bargain Books on 29th has a good selection, but, of course, it doesn't stock the newest titles.  And then there are the thrifts. I've found a lot of great books at various thrift stores around Grand Rapids, but that's always a serendipitous experience. You go, you browse, you may find something; it's not predictable.

For West Michigan genre readers outside inspirational fiction, Amazon is likely your go-to source because unless you're reading mainstream popular authors, titles will likely have to be special ordered anyway. The selection for science fiction, mystery, romance, or young adult is just not that extensive even in a well stocked chain store, and by the time you've spent gas driving to 28th Street, you could have paid for shipping to Grand Rapids. But there's nothing like spending a slow Saturday afternoon browsing shelves, looking through titles you never would have found except by browsing, and because of that, it's always sad to see another brick-and-moral bookstore close. The used selection at that Schuler's was organized and varied too. It's definitely a loss.